By Roseanne Gerin March 31, 2014
The traditional formats for business-news reporting – text only, or text and photos – increasingly seem insufficient for grabbing the attention of readers who get their news on the web and mobile devices, and face constant distractions from flashy offerings of sports news and celebrity gossip. Today, the most successful business-media organizations are those that offer compelling business and economics stories enhanced with interactive graphics, data visualizations and other digital tools.
Leading publications such as Bloomberg, The News York Times, Reuters, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post have built dedicated graphics teams, and are embracing the use of charts and graphs and other visuals as part of their stories. The Washington Post’s successful digital initiative “Wonkblog,” pioneered by economics and policy blogger Ezra Klein, was highly popular with readers, along with its offshoot “Know More,” which features colorful infographics. It was so successful, in fact, that Klein left the Post this year to start a new media site in partnership with Vox Media. And fivethirtyeight.com, the news site recently launched by Nate Silver in partnership with ESPN, also takes a data- and graphics-driven approach. (Silver had previously published his work on the New York Times’ platform.
Many media outlets across the U.S., however, have yet to incorporate digital tools in their business and economics reports, either because they are stuck in traditional mindsets that favor print over digital information delivery, they lack the human and financial resources to carry out such endeavors, or both.
While the tools and techniques to create graphics have been around for years, news organizations need to invest in these capabilities, and journalists and editors must be willing to learn and regularly apply them to make their stories more attractive to readers, especially on digital platforms. Media outlets that fail to incorporate data visualizations in business and economics stories will continue to miss out. According to data from the Pew Research Center, the highest level of audience growth for news in 2012 occurred on digital platforms. An August 2012 study by the nonpartisan public-opinion polling firm revealed that 64 percent of tablet owners said they read news on their devices weekly, while 37 percent reported they did so daily. And 62 percent of smartphone users said they consumed news on their devices weekly, while 36 percent said they did so daily.
The crux of the challenge of adopting and routinely using data visualization techniques to tell stories is not only about how the press can foster a more intelligent discussion of economic and business policy, but how it can also adapt its coverage of economic and business topics to appeal to readers who increasingly want their news to be visually entertaining, interactive, available in multimedia formats and accessible online and via mobile technology.
The News York Times’ five-part, data visualization series “Economy Interactives” is an example of how to do it right. Last year, it won the Times a Gerald Loeb Award, one of the top prizes for excellence in business and economics journalism, in the newly created category of Images/Visuals. The addition of this new category reflected the increasing importance of infographics in journalism. One of the five parts, “How the Tax Burden Has Changed”, contains several interactive graphs spanning 1980 to 2010, which let readers click along datelines to see how tax rates changed over time for different income groups.
The interactive graphic features a link to a related short video headlined “What Is a Fair Tax Code?” in which ordinary people in southwestern Illinois talk about tax rates and how they affected them or their businesses. It also links to a 1,130-word article explaining the methodology behind the data as well as to the Twitter hashtag @NYTNational, so readers can access more stories by the Times’ national news team. Last, it links to a long feature article with photos entitled “Tax Breaks for Most American Is Lower Than in the 1980s,” which delves further into how various people in Belleville, Ill., are affected by taxes.
Another of the “Economy Interactives” in the series, headlined, “Who’s Hurt by the Fiscal Impasse? You Decide”, features compelling content about the current and future state of the U.S. under different economic-policy scenarios. It lets readers click on boxes to select different tax increases and spending cuts scheduled for the end of the 2012, which could either prompt a recession if they remained in effect or add to the deficit. Images of smiling or frowning faces appear above certain income groups that would be affected by specific tax policy changes, underscoring the messages visually and enticing readers to read the commentary.
As these examples show, journalists already have the digital tools at hand to make their business and economics stories more appealing to the general public, which now demands stimulating, interactive, multimedia news delivery both online and on their mobile devices. If there is any remaining hurdle, it is that reporters, like it or not, must infuse their stories with digital techniques to get more readers interested in these topics.
The formula is simple:
Both the leading print and online news organizations, as well as digital-native start-ups are embracing graphics, visualizations, and other online tools to engage their readers anytime, anywhere, in digital format. News organizations and journalists that resist this trend are unlikely to succeed in an increasingly digital future.
Comments are closed.